How to Self-Decontaminate after a Radiation Emergency
It is important to get radioactive material off your body as soon as possible to lower your risk of harm. Removing radioactive material from a person, object, or place is called decontamination. Decontaminating yourself will lower your exposure to harmful radioactive material.
Municipal (tap) water sources may be contaminated during a radiation emergency.
- If the tap water is contaminated, public health officials may recommend that you drink bottled water instead of tap water.
- You can still use tap water for decontamination. Any radioactive material that gets into surface water or ground water sources will be diluted to very low levels by the water and will be safe to use for washing skin, hair, and clothing.
1. Remove outer layer of clothing.
- Take off your outer layer of clothing: Taking off your outer layer of clothing can remove up to 90% of radioactive material.
- Be very careful in removing your clothing to prevent radioactive dust from shaking loose. Put the clothing in a plastic bag or other sealable container and put the bag in an out-of-the-way place, away from other people and pets.
2a. Wash yourself off.
If you can’t take a shower:
- Wash your hands, face, and parts of your body that were uncovered at a sink or faucet. Use soap and plenty of water.
- If you do not have access to a sink or faucet, use a moist wipe, clean wet cloth, or a damp paper towel to wipe the parts of your body that were uncovered. Pay special attention to your hands and face.
- Gently blow your nose, wipe your eyelids, eyelashes, and ears with a moist wipe, clean wet cloth, or a damp paper towel.
- Put the used wipes, cloth or towel in a plastic bag or other sealable container and place the bag in an out-of-the-way place, away from other people and pets.
2b. Wash yourself off.
If you can take a shower:
- Take a warm shower and gently wash yourself with lots of soap. Do not scald, scrub, or scratch your skin. Your skin helps protect the inside of your body from radioactive material.
- Wash your hair with shampoo or soap. Do not use conditioner because it will cause radioactive material to stick to your hair.
- Keep cuts and abrasions covered when washing to keep from getting radioactive material in open wounds.
- Page last reviewed: October 9, 2013
- Page last updated: October 8, 2014
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